Honey Creek Watershed-Health of the Tributary

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The Honey Creek watershed is a Tributary of the Menomonee River which flows through Waukesha, Milwaukee, and West Allis, Wisconsin. According to the DNR, the Menomonee River watershed covers 136 square miles and is located in four of Wisconsin’s counties: notably Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Washington, and Waukesha. The entire Menomonee watershed is totaled around 96 stream miles, but the tributary that has been chosen in particular is the Honey Creek Tributary, which only consists of roughly 8.8 miles on its own before converging with the Menomonee River. The Honey Creek tributary originates in the city of Greenfield and flows through concrete channels throughout West Allis, runs underground beneath the Wisconsin State Fair Park, and the flows into the Menomonee River (Wisconsin DNR)[1]. The Honey Creek Tributary, along with other parts of the Menomonee River, has been lined with concrete in order to reduce flood rates. Ironically, the adding of concrete to these watersheds has increased flooding exponentially with varying degrees each year. This inconsistency of the water level makes the Honey Creek tributary an ill-suited location for wildlife to call their home. In 2003, this creek was added to the MMSD, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewage District, sampling program according to the UWM Water Base.[2] Within the next six years, the MMSD stared to tear down parts of the concrete lined creek in order to return the natural wildlife to the Honey Creek Tributary and the surrounding area.


According to an article found written by Don Behm in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on January 21, 2007 [3], the Honey Creek tributary is described as “more sewer than natural stream”. Behm notes that Honey Creek has been polluted by fecal bacteria that have spilled from the sewers and into the stream itself. This fecal matter comes from many sources of animal excrements, such as pets, bird, and the excess run off from the livestock wastes from the State Fair. Although this counts as a large part of the polluted stream, roughly 10 to 20 percent of the fecal bacteria in Honey Creek are from human sources. The MMSD has recorded that this recent exposure of fecal bacteria in Honey Creek is due to a leakage in the sewage systems and storm within Milwaukee and its surrounding areas.

Currently our world houses 7,432,663,275 people (worldometers.info)[4]. This number is consistently increasing each year. With so many people there is an ever imminent demand for more food. Farmers must clear more trees for farm land, spread more fertilizer, and spray more insecticides. Our businesses must expand and use more resources. Our roads have been littered with garbage, metals, plastics, oils, and chemicals. The cities we drive through are lined with the same. Almost every place on earth has been polluted in some way or another and even Mt. Everest has been touched by the human hand. This pollution that we have in our world eventually finds its way into our oceans, lakes, rivers, and creeks. Our freshwater supply is very small. Of all the water in the world, only three percent of it is fresh water. Out of the world’s freshwater supply only about one percent is available to us humans, as well as different animal species (Strayer 2010). This is why we must take great precautions to not pollute it. “Freshwater habitats occupy <1% of the Earth's surface, yet are hotspots that support ∼10% of all known species, and ∼⅓ of vertebrate species (Strayer 2010).” Rivers and lakes are a resource to all humans. These rivers and lakes promote industry, recreation, food, drinking water, just to name a few. The problem is that humans are polluting our freshwaters. “Fresh waters also are hotspots for human activities that have led to widespread habitat degradation, pollution, flow regulation and water extraction, fisheries overexploitation, and alien species introductions (Strayer 2010).” [5] The Menomonee River flows through Milwaukee, Wisconsin and has a connecting creek called Honey Creek. Both of these freshwater streams have become polluted through various problems that we have created, which affects the quality of the water and the fish species, as well as, macro-invertebrates. Milwaukee is known for very cold winters. Salt is applied to the roadways to help reduce the freezing point of water and to increase traction for vehicles. “Road-salt runoff poses an increasing threat to aquatic ecosystems that are influenced by urban land use and transportation corridors (Corsi, Graczyk 2010).” This was a study done in 2007 and it involved taking water samples from 13 Milwaukee streams. Honey Creek was part of this study. It was determined that road salt increases the level of toxicity in the water and there was a higher concentration of chloride in areas where there is runoff. “Detrimental impacts from road-salt runoff to surface water presented in this study were evident on local, regional, and national scales. The presented long- and short-term runoff sampling programs in Wisconsin demonstrate a substantial effect from road salt on streamwater quality and aquatic life (Corsi, Graczyk 2010).” [6]

Nitrogen was known for being used in explosives during War World Two. It was a main ingredient for the making of bombs which the United States used against our adversaries. After World War Two ended there was nitrogen left over. It was then utilized on farms fields and eventually made its way to everyday homes, where it was applied on gardens and grass (livinghistoryfarm.org).[7] How does fertilizer affect the quality of the water? Since nitrogen helps stimulate growth, when it runs off into streams, it increases the level of aquatic plants that grow. This occurs naturally within our environment and it is called eutrophication. “Fertilization of surface waters (eutrophication) results in, for example, explosive growth of algae which causes disruptive changes to the biological equilibrium [including fish kills]. This is true both for inland waters (ditches, river, lakes) and coastal waters (Natural Resources Management and Environment Department).”[8][9] Fertilizer in freshwater streams can cause aquatic plants to grow in areas where streams flow, causing flooding or re-routing of the stream. Both salt run off and nitrogen run off from fertilizers are examples of non-point pollution. “NPS pollution is caused by rainfall or snowmelt moving over and through the ground. As the runoff moves, it picks up and carries away natural and human-made pollutants, finally depositing them into lakes, rivers, wetlands, coastal waters and ground waters (Environmental Protection Agency).” Other examples on non-point pollution that the EPA lists are oils, chemicals, and bacteria or nutrients from livestock, pets, or any sewage leakage. There is also point source pollution. “The term "point source" means any discernible, confined and discrete conveyance, including but not limited to any pipe, ditch, channel, tunnel, conduit, well, discrete fissure, container, rolling stock, concentrated animal feeding operation, or vessel or other floating craft, from which pollutants are or may be discharged (Environmental Protection Agency).”[10] This could be a factory directly dumping waste into a stream or river, it could also be a rupture in an oil rig off the coast of land which directly puts pollutants into the waterways.


Macroinvertebrates are organisms that lack a spine, but are large enough and able to be seen with the naked eye. These invertebrates are important in understanding and indicating the water conditions within a river or stream. These macroinvertebrates are indicators due to the fact that they are easy to collect, typically stay in small areas, and are sensitive to changes in stream and river conditions (hamiltonharbour.ca).[11] They are many different kinds, and they are identified by their features. A starting point for identification of macroinvertebrates depends on whether they have a shell. These invertebrates can then be broken down into many groups based of off similarities in their features: invertebrates may have six, eight, or ten plus legs, beetle-like wings or leathery wings, two, three, or no tails at all. Some invertebrates with shells include the gilled snail, the limpet, or the freshwater mussel. Those that have been identified with legs are the water mite, riffle beetle, or a backswimmer. All of these play a role in the determination of the quality of the water based on their abilities to survive changes in the condition of the steam and water where they preside (watermonitoring.uwex.edu—Illustrations of Macroinvertebrates).[12] Macroinvertebrates are important organisms, living in the rivers and streams of the state of Wisconsin. The DNR collects macroinvertebrate samples from hundreds of streams within the state of Wisconsin annually, and typically used the Hilsenhoff Biotic Index to determine and interpret the quality of the water. When studying macroinvertebrates, pollution tolerance of the species needs to be taken into account; there could be a situation where not all specimens in a sample are given a tolerance number, and so this becomes a factor in determining whether these invertebrates effectively indicate the quality of the water. According to a study done by UW Steven’s Point in 2003, the inclusion of underdeveloped or damaged specimens in their 125 invertebrate counts, may be the result in the reporting of HBI values based on less than the 100 specimen minimum recommended by Hilsenhoff. Ratings for the quality of the water can be based off of the HBI (Hilsenhoff Biotic Index) and the FBI (Family Level Biotic Index) values. These values represent the average weighted pollution tolerance value of all the arthropods present in a sample of macroinvertebrates (Lille, Szczytko, Miller, 2003).[13] Any HBI value less than 3.50 receives a water quality rating of excellent. In contrast, any HBI value between 8.51 and 10 results in a very poor rating. The same ratings can be made based off a FBI less than 3.75 or a FBI value between 7.26 and 10. Degrees of organic pollution can also be made based off of the values determined for the HBI and the FBI.


The Honey Creek Waterway has many Macroinvertebrates that inhabit its waters. Macroinvertebrates are relative to our research because, we as researchers can identify the different macroinvertebrates. Knowing how many Macroinvertebrates of each species are in the Honey Creek Waterway, can help determine the levels of pollution (Hilsenhoff 1987). On April 13, 2016 three Wisconsin Lutheran College students, who are a part of the Principles of Biology 1 class, made a movement to the Honey Creek Waterway near Hart Park in Wauwatosa, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, which is very near where it connects with the Menomonee River, (Figure 2) and sampled the creek in one location. The method that the students used, was standing in the creek with waders on, feet together, and making a steady motion with their feet, in a rhythmic pattern (Figure 1). This stirred up the sediment and released Macroinvertebrates downstream where there was a D-Frame Net. The macroinvertebrates were then sorted and removed, and placed on trays to be separated with forceps or tweezers. The Macroinvertebrates were sorted, initially, by quick determination based off of how they looked. Eventually the macroinvertebrates found their way into a solution (70% isopropanol)—(Hisenhoff 1988), which killed and preserved them. This allowed for the student researchers to identify the macroinvertebrates later on with more certainty and dedication. The materials that the three researches used were knee-high waders, which prevented the researchers from becoming wet and allowed for quick and easy feet shifting to stir the sediment. A D-Frame Net was also used (Figure 1). This D-Frame Net allowed for one side of the net to be gently laid level with the bed of the creek allowing for the sediment, which was stirred up, to be trapped into the net. Trays were also used and forceps, for organization and collecting purposes. Once the Macroinvertebrates were gathered they were placed in jars. Another material that was used was a solution that was 70% isopropanol (Hisenhoff 1988) which killed and preserved the macroinvertebrates, so they could later be identified by the researchers.

See "Collective Data of Results" picture...for "figures" talked about above for Hilsenhoff 1987-1988 and Field Biotic Index

Figure 1: Collecting Macroinvertebrates by Stirring up Sediment. April 13, 2016 sampling Honey Creek Waterway by Hart Park, Wauwatosa, WI
Figure 2: Map of Honey Creek and Menomonee River Sampling Areas (Google Earth 2016)


The three researchers from Wisconsin Lutheran College, who sampled the Honey Creek Waterway in Wauwatosa, collected a total of 57 macroinvertebrates. These can be seen in the Table 1 Data. Out of the 57 collected only two different classes were found. These classes were “Insecta” and “Malacostraca”. Based on the Hilsenhoff Family Biotic Index and the Tolerance Values, researchers from Wisconsin Lutheran College determined that the water quality was a 7.28. How did the researchers find this number? By taking the sum, of the total, of the “Tolerance Value” (415) and dividing it by the sum, of the total, of the “Total Collected” (57), researchers can then look at the Family Biotic Index (Hilsenhoff 1987) and determine the water quality. This number (7.28) indicates that the water quality is very poor and that it is likely there is severe organic pollution. Given that the researchers only collected a small sample from the Honey Creek Waterway, they combined their findings with researchers that sampled the same river, from another group. The combined data can be found in Table 3. The data of collected macroinvertebrates from the Honey Creek Waterway can be found in Table 2.

Table 2 is the second group of Wisconsin Lutheran College Researchers that sampled Honey Creek. The only macroinvertebrates that these researchers collected were Asellidae spp. Here we can compare the two groups that sampled Honey Creek. Based off of the Field Biotic Index we can see that the water quality is very poor (8.00) which means it has “Severe organic pollution likely” (Hilsenhoff 1987). Both the Honey Creek groups collected macroinvertebrates that indicated that the water quality is poor.

As previously mentioned above, Table 3 is the combined totals. Here we can see that the water quality remains the same. The total Tolerance Value of this combined data is 943. The total, of the Total Collected, is 123. When researchers divide 943 by 123 they found that through the Family Biotic Index, the Water Quality is very poor (7.66) which means it has “Severe organic pollution likely” (Hilsenhoff 1987).

Table 4 is the data collected for the Menomonee River. These researchers had more luck when sampling. Looking at the table we can see that they collected a few more macroinvertebrates. What does this tell us? Some macroinvertebrates are more tolerant of water, which could indicate to researchers if the water quality in the Menomonee River is better than the Honey Creek Waterway. The Menomonee River may run through the same area of the city, however, it is very much different. It has a faster rate of flow, it is wider, and it absorbs more pollution. The total Tolerance Value, of the macroinvertebrates collected in the sample of the Menomonee River is 582. The total number of macroinvertebrates collected is 91. The water quality based off of the Field Biotic Index is 6.40. This indicates that the water quality is “fairly poor” and that ”Substantial pollution Likely” (Hilsenhoff 1987).

See "Collective Data of Results" picture...for "figures" talked about above for Hilsenhoff 1987-1988 and Field Biotic Index

Collective Data of Results


Understanding the species of macroinvertebrates in a river is just one of several indications of determining the health of a river, it is a very effective method of carrying out this process. These macroinvertebrates are important because of their functions in the river; they clean organic materials from the river and are prey to larger aquatic animals that live in the water. By determining the species of the macroinvertebrates in the water, and then further determining their tolerance values and the FBI, one can come to a conclusion on the status of the river or body of water they are studying.

In the study of Honey Creek in the spring semester of 2016, the researchers involved in this project collected 57 invertebrates, and of these 57, there were three different orders of macroinvertebrates identified. 47 of the 57, the majority of the macroinvertebrates identified, belonged to class Malacostraca, order Isopoda, family Asellidae spp. Then, there were 9 collected from class Insecta, order Trichoptera, family Hydrophyscidae, and then of that same class, 1 Tipulidae from order Diptura. The recommended amount of invertebrates that should have been collected was around 100 macroinvertebrates, however, the researchers lacked a sufficient amount, and they had to combine the macroinvertebrates identified by the other group researching Honey Creek. Asellidae spp made up the entirety of the macroinvertebrates identified by the other group (these groups collected the macroinvertebrates within 2 hours of each other) bringing the total amount of Asellidae spp to be 113 out of 123. Asellidae spp are moderately tolerable to pollution and therefore exist in many different aquatic environments such as streams, headwaters, ponds, or shallow areas of a lake (NCSU Water Quality Group).[14] The other species identified, the Hydrophyscidae and Tipulidae can tolerate pollution and environmental stress quite well because they are able to live in a diversity of habitats (Department of Environmental Conservation).[15] These families of macroinvertebrates made up the total collected on April 13th, of 2016.

Based on the findings and the calculated FBI value, as mentioned in the results section, the water quality of Honey Creek was very poor. Likely, there is a lot of pollution that exits in the river from point and non-point pollution sources. This is the result of the everyday actions of members of the community, the conscious or unconscious actions of emptying waste, and other sources of pollution into the creek.

In a similar manner, a group of researchers from Wisconsin Lutheran College sampled the Menomonee River back in 2012. Here is what they found: “The section of river we sampled was relatively shallow (1-4 feet deep) with moderately clear water and a rocky bottom (Table 1). We caught a total of 168 fish, none of which had any DELTs. Six different species, all native to the Menomonee River, were present in the sample (Table 2). The blacknose dace was the most prevalent species, making up 53% of the total fish composition (Figure 3).Of our fish, the blacknose dace, creek chub, white sucker, and blunt nose minnow were tolerant species (Table 3). None of the collected species were intolerant. The majority of our fish were generalist feeders, making up 67.8% of the fish composition. Of our fish, 65.4% were simple lithophils. From our data, we calculated an IBI score of 10 (Table 3). This score indicates a river with “very poor” biotic integrity (Lyons 1992).”—(Dylan Applin, William Gorr, Whitney Stibb, Nicole Morici, Wilhelmina Krahn, Joshua Blawat)

Here we can see, that through those six Wisconsin Lutheran College researchers and their data and tables, we can understand how they came to their conclusions. However, we might not understand the IBI (Index of Biotic Integrity). The IBI helps determine pollution of the water. “The IBI consists of a series of fish community attributes, termed metrics that reflect basic structural and functional characteristics of biotic assemblages: species richness and composition, trophic and reproductive function, and individual abundance and condition. The number and identity of metrics differ among different versions of the IBI, but all versions have metrics that measure both structural and functional characteristics of fish communities” (Lyons 1992)[16]

The Kinnickinnic River has also been affected by this pollution. “The Kinnickinnic River watershed lies entirely within Milwaukee County. Land cover in this watershed is mostly urban (90%), with park/recreational lands (5.3%) and woodlands (1.5%) creating open spaces. Remaining wetlands comprise only 0.36 percent of the land area. Comprise only 0.2 percent of the land area” (Wisconsin DNR). This indicates that as water finds its way back into the Kinnickinnic River, it brings pollution with it, causing the water quality of the river to decrease. “The stressors on the waterbodies within the Kinnickinnic River watershed have greatly limited the ability for the waterbodies to fully support fish and aquatic life uses. The Kinnickinnic River watershed contains a very poor fishery and benthic macroinvertebrate community (insects and other organisms that provide food for fish). The fish community contains relatively few species of fishes, contains few or no top carnivores, and is dominated by tolerant fishes. The macroinvertebrate community also lacks variety and dominated by tolerant organisms” (Wisconsin DNR). This means that the Kinnickinnic River’s water quality is low because it has organisms that are tolerant to pollution. Just as we found in the Honey Creek Waterway, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources found that the Kinnickinnic River is also polluted.

` In contrast to the water quality of Honey Creek, Mukwonago River is listed as an Outstanding Resource Water in the state of Wisconsin (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources).[17] There are many diverse populations of fish, mussels, amphibians, and macroinvertebrates in this Mukwonago River Watershed. This is an indication that the health of the river is quite good. The number of animals and macroinvertebrates that can survive in polluted waters is minimal, so this diversity of them in the Mukwonago River indicates that the water is healthier and safe enough for many animals to survive in. In 2001, both fish and macroinvertebrate data was collected and indicated good water quality of the Mukwonago River (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources). The researchers acknowledge that this was several years ago; however, as of now this river is considered to be one of the highest quality streams in Wisconsin (Lyons 2011).[18]

The Honey Creek Waterway area has high levels of urbanization. Pollution has been found in the Honey Creek Waterway, Menomonee River, Kinnickinnic River, and the Mukwonago River. Wisconsin Lutheran College, along with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, should continue to monitor the Creek’s water quality, as well as, enforce regulations regarding pollution. With much continued effort and methods to increase the Creek’s water quality, the Honey Creek Waterway can be restored.

Collective Data of Discussion


  1. Burzynski,, M. Water Resources Management Specialist, Gayan, S. Basin Supervisor, Milwaukee River Basin , Last, L. Water Resources Management Specialist, Owens, A. Research Analyst, Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, Waukesha,WI , Pinney, B., Emerson, J., Binder M., Rehwald M., Smith C., Lederer M., Keally F. Watershed Management, Madison, WI., & Helmuth, L. (2011, December). Wisconsin Watersheds, Kinnickinnic River Watershed. In Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources: . Retrieved from file:///C:/Users/Owner/Downloads/MI01_WTPLAN.pdf
  2. University of Wisconsin Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences. (n.d.). WATERBase. Retrieved April 16, 2016, from http://www.waterbase.glwi.uwm.edu/mmsd/one-survey.php?survey_id=12
  3. Behm, D. (2007, January 21). Honey Creek tainted with human waste. Journal Sentinel. Retrieved April 16, 2016, from http://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/29416799.html
  4. Worldometers. (n.d.). Current World Population. In World Population Clock. Retrieved April 8, 2016, from http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/
  5. Strayer, D. L., & Dudgeon, D. (2010). Freshwater biodiversity conservation: Recent progress and future challenges. Journal of the North American Benthological Society, 344-358. doi:10.1899/08-171.1
  6. Corsi, S. R., Gracsyk, D. J., Booth, N. L., & Richards, K. D. (2010). A Fresh Look at Road Salt: Aquatic Toxicity and Water-Quality Impacts on Local, Regional, and National Scales. Environmental Science and Technology, 44(19), 7376-7382. doi:10.1021/es101333u
  7. Ganzel, B., & Reinhardt, C. (n.d.). Postwar Fertilizer Explodes. In FARMING IN THE 1940's. Retrieved from http://www.livinghistoryfarm.org/farminginthe40s/crops_04.html
  8. Natural Resources Management and Environment Department. (n.d.). Chapter 3: Fertilizers as water pollutants. In FAO Corporate Document Repository. Retrieved April 15, 2016, from http://www.fao.org/docrep/w2598e/w2598e06.htm
  9. Natural Resources Management and Environment Department. (n.d.). Control of water pollution from agriculture. Retrieved April 15, 2016, from http://www.fao.org/docrep/w2598e/w2598e06.ht
  10. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency . (n.d.). What is Nonpoint Source?. In Polluted Runoff: Nonpoint Source Pollution . Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/polluted-runoff-nonpoint-source-pollution/what-nonpoint-source
  11. Hamilton Harbour. (n.d.). Macroinvertebrates. Retrieved April 17, 2016, from http://hamiltonharbour.ca/resources/documents/Macroinvertebrates.pdf
  12. University of Wisconsin-Extension. (n.d.). Key to Life in the Pond. Retrieved April 16, 2016, from http://watermonitoring.uwex.edu/pdf/level1/pondkey.pdf
  13. Lillie, R. A., Szczytko, S. W., & Miller, M. A. (2003). MACROINVERTEBRATE Data Interpretation Guidance Manuel (pp. 1-58) (United States, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources). Madison, WI: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
  14. North Carolina State University-NCSU Water Quality Group. (n.d.). In Watershedss. Retrieved from http://www.water.ncsu.edu/watershedss/info/macroinv.html
  15. Department of Environmental Conservation. (n.d.). Caddisflies (Trichoptera). Retrieved April 18, 2016, from http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/30965.html
  16. Lyons, J. 1992. Using the Index of Biotic Integrity to Measure Environmental Quality in Warmwater Streams of Wisconsin. US Department of Agriculture. St. Paul, MN.
  17. Gayan, S. Basin Supervisor, Burzynski, M. Water Resources Management Specialist, Masterson, J. Fisheries Biologist, Yencha, A. UW-Extension Basin Educator, Helmuth, L. Water Resources Management Specialist, Lederer, A. Water Resources Management Specialist, & Binder, M. GIS Analyst (2010, August). Wisconsin DNR: Wisconsin Watersheds, Menomonee River Watershed (United States, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources). Retrieved April 16, 2016, from http://dnr.wi.gov/water/basin/milw/wtplans/MI03/MI03_WTPLAN.PDF
  18. Lyons, J. 2011. Mukwonago River Annual Index of Biotic Integrity (IBI) Fish Survey. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Madison, WI.

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